A saying which found its way into English vocabulary during World War One, “over the top” describes the situation where unfortunate infantrymen were to leave their trenches and charge into no man’s land in an attempt to gain ground. No man’s land was the area between two opposing trench lines and is aptly called so due to the low survival rates of those who entered into it. As deadly as no man’s land was, it is estimated that around one-third of all casualties in World War One occurred in the trenches themselves be it from; disease, biological weapons or combat. What was supposedly the safest place for a soldier, statistically was one of the most dangerous places to be.
When asked by most folks what I gave up for Lent this past season, most people were left perplexed. I gave up reading my go-to Catholic blogs. I suppose without context this seems counter-intuitive to the purpose of Lent. In my free time, one of the things I enjoy is catching up on the current events and politics of the Church. While this is in and of itself is not a bad thing, in a post-Christian world the news is more often more bad than good. This over-concentration on the workings of the Church had become a distraction from my relationship with Jesus. So it was that for Lent, I decided to remove these distractions. Understanding the pulse and the direction of the modern Church influences my direction and focuses the way I approach my relationship with God and other Catholics as well. With all the turmoil in the Church, I found myself in no man’s land and had no clear strategy for proceeding forward so I retreated to my trench for Lent.
It’s Time to Engage
This past Easter, I heard an absolutely rousing homily. The content was that of challenging Christians to pick up their cross and how most Christians fail to realize that without the crucifixion there is no resurrection. If we do not pick up our own crosses and lay our own lives down, there will be no glorification waiting for us on our judgement day. The homilist further exhorted the parishioners to examine how they are doing that in their lives and if we as Christians are holding others in the Church accountable as well. We as Catholics often like to be critical of the outside world and raise the bar higher for them, but for fellow Catholics we are willing to dismiss corruption and error on the grounds that we haven’t the influence to fix the problem, or that there is no problem at all. Another parishioner did blank, that is the priest’s responsibility. Father did blank, the bishop should really do something about that. The bishop said blank, the pope should really do something about that. As Catholics we like to tout that the Church is infallible and cannot fall into error and this is our excuse. The Church, in regards to teaching on faith and morals, is infallible; of this we can be sure. But what that means is much more nuanced than most Catholics understand it to be. Furthermore, this protection is guaranteed through the action of the Holy Spirit, but it is not magic! It requires each of us to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us.
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Some of us may be familiar with the Arian Heresy. Arianism was a heresy in the 4th century that challenged the divinity of the person of Christ. Arianism was rejected as heresy at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Never-the-less, many years after the Council a curious thing happened; Arianism had grown. Saint Athanasius, a bishop at the time, held that Jesus was truly God. He recognized the ruling of the Council and what we all recognize today as the orthodox Christian belief. Yet, Athanasius was excommunicated by all but three of the other bishops in the world for holding this belief! And those three other bishops did not defend him, they simply abstained from ruling on the proceedings. Although Pope Liberius was not present, his three papal delegates also affirmed the excommunication. We have no evidence that Pope Liberius ever released any documents signaling the Church’s acceptance of Arianism, but many scholars think it likely on a personal level that the pope had accepted the faulty theology on some level. Athanasius and a small band of faithful monks, exiled by the whole Christian world to the desert, were the sole remnant of Christian orthodoxy. It was only through hard work, constant prayer and an exhaustive effort that truth finally came around. Still, it took several hundred years to weed out Arianism amongst the Christian world.
It is not just the role of bishops and popes to defend the Church, it is our job as well. The Church is under attack from all angles, inside and out. It was a nun, Saint Catherine of Sienna, who convinced the papacy to return to Rome from Avignon in the 14th century and helped bring about the end to a great schism in the Church at the time. Long before Tiananmen Square, it was a layman, Saint Thomas More, who stood alone in front of the tyrant Henry VIII in the dawn of the English Reformation, a monarch who only years before had been given the title “Defender of the Faith” by the papacy for his role in denouncing Martin Luther. Thomas More changed the identity and rallying cry of Catholics in that country to this day.
A Call To Action
The homily I heard this past Easter for me was a call back into action. Admittedly, after Lent I binge-read my blogs. I don’t fancy to take the time to cover all the details, but this past Lenten season several things cropped up in the Catholic news world that should cause alarm for all Catholics.
- The Superior General of the Society of Jesus, that is to say the “head honcho” of the largest Catholic religious organization in the world; the Jesuits, stated in an interview that the gospel should be revaluated to determine what Jesus actually wanted to say and not what the writers of the gospels, the apostles and their successors say he said. If you’d like to know more click HERE.
- Fr. James Martin S.J. was recently appointed by Pope Francis to be a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, that is the body which controls all of the Vatican’s media and communications. Fr. Martin has a history of associating with groups not in line with Catholic teaching. This past fall, he even received an honorary award from a dissident Catholic ministry which has been condemned by the Vatican and the United States College of Catholic Bishops since 1999. Read more if interested HERE.
- The world-wide confusion over Amoris Laetitia continues. If you are unfamiliar with the chaos resulting from last year’s encyclical read an overview HERE.
- This year marks the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation and the 100 year anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima. The Vatican will be celebrating both. Even the word irony cannot fully capture this thought. The Vatican also has made the decision to print commemorative Martin Luther stamps to go with the festivities. For a brief commentary on the situation, from a convert, read HERE
My time in the trenches this past Lent enabled me to focus on what is most important in my life; my relationship with Jesus. There is such a thing as a tactical retreat. But with this I have also come to realize that without the effort of each of us, the Church may not be lost, but countless souls can be. We need to read, have intellectual curiosity, seek out or educate ourselves, speak out, hold each other accountable (layman, deacon, priest, bishop, pope), fast, go to confession and above all pray! We have to do these things wherever our sphere of influence may be. In our homes, with our friends and family, in our parish, in our diocese. The trench is a dangerous place for you and me to be for too long. If we stay in the trenches too long, we become lukewarm and battle weary. If we stay too long in the trenches, the worst form of death may be apon us. If we stay too long in the trench, we cannot be war heroes. I’m asking each reader to hear God’s call into spiritual warfare; I’m asking each of you to pick up your cross, lay down your life and follow Jesus over the top.
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!